Doctor Who
Vanishing Point

Author: Stephen Cole
BBC Books
5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53829 5
Available now

The Eighth Doctor, Fitz and Anji arrive on a world where people live in the blissful knowledge that the meaning of their lives will be made clear by the Creator who shares the planet with them. But a spate of bombings and other apparently meaningless deaths, which neither the Creator nor its mortal invigilators can explain or remedy, are shaking the people's faith...

Stephen Cole has been busy of late, having also co-authored this month's other novel, The Shadow in the Glass.

Here, Cole sensitively tackles the thought-provoking and potentially uncomfortable subjects of religion and genetic engineering, in a book that echoes the downbeat tone (and, to an extent, one of the plot twists) of one of his previous co-ventures, Parallel 59. What appears at first to be another Parallel 59-style dystopia does in fact have the potential to be something of a utopia, but this doesn't become apparent until fairly late in the day. During some complicated introductory chapters, Cole makes some questionable choices as to what he reveals when about this particular social set-up. The propensity of these opening chapters to tell rather than show doesn't help to cement the concepts in the mind of the reader, either. For example, we are told that the Creator exists, but the lack of any direct observations of this entity (the plot requiring that such things remain mysterious up until a certain juncture) undermines the profound implications of a tangible god.

Eventually it becomes clear how an unpleasant yet pitiful character called Cauchemar has become a veritable fly in the ointment of the Creator's planet. Cole's symbolic use of flies effectively demonstrates Cauchemar's corruption - both in terms of the corruption of his mind and the literal disintegration of his body, which he has prolonged by artificial means, like the similarly revolting Magnus Greel in The Talons of Weng-Chiang or the Son'a from Star Trek: Insurrection. The fly imagery, together with Cauchemar's origins and his use of zombified human minions also bring to mind a couple of Who novels written by Gareth Roberts back in the Virgin Publishing era - The English Way of Death and The Well-mannered War.

Due to its sombre tone and the aforementioned problems with its introduction, this book is hard work to get into and frequently heavy going thereafter. But, like the lives of the Creator's favoured followers, the effort is ultimately rewarding.

Richard McGinlay